Introduced in 1954, the Gibson John Lennon J-160e was one of the first jumbo acoustic guitars available with a factory fitted built-in pick-up. Based on the round-shouldered J-45, the model was made largely from plywood and ladder braced, as if its acoustic qualities were of only secondary importance to the plugged-in sound. Of course there were no dedicated acoustic guitar pick-ups around then, so Gibson fitted an un-covered version the P-90 to the end of the fingerboard. The Beatles made the J-160E famous, using it on many of their recordings throughout the sixties; John Lennon re-finished his with a psychedelic paint job, then stripped it back to natural .
The Montana built Gibson 70th Anniversary John Lennon J-160E, finished in Vintage Sunburst, is one of a limited edition of 500 guitars and is an accurate replica of the J-160E of 1962 – which is when John and George bought their matching guitars from Rushworth’s music shop in Liverpool – including a three-layer, laminated Sitka spruce top with ladder bracing and mahogany back and sides. It also features a long discontinued but period correct (height) adjustable bridge and a P-90 single-coil magnetic pickup at the end of the fingerboard with a top-mounted volume and tone control.
The neck is constructed from solid mahogany and attached at the 15th fret, while the headstock is inlaid with Lennon’s signature. An Indian rosewood fingerboard features mother-of-pearl trapezoid inlays with Lennon’s date of birth inscribed at the 12th-fret. Tuners are vintage-style nickel Klusons with keystone buttons and the guitar comes with a special hardshell case, Certificate of Authenticity, an owner’s manual and literature for Gibson’s Gold Warranty.
The J-160E comes factory fitted with a set of Gibson 11-52 light gauge electric guitar strings which somewhat compromises the acoustic response of the instrument. Although it’s a strange sound – low in volume and depth – it’s strangely compelling, knowing that you’re hearing the same sound that Lennon and Harrison heard when they first picked up their new guitars nearly fifty years ago.
Plugged into a VOX AC-30 (what else?), the J-160E becomes a different guitar and although sounding nothing like a modern electro-acoustic, does have enough of a distinctive character to make it workable. The overall tone is thuddy and percussive rather than intricate, perfect for knocking out solid Lennon style rhythm parts and having the control knobs on the top like an electric guitar is a real treat.